November 20

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Do Light Novels Come With Furigana?

By Charles Hoshino

November 20, 2020


If you are learning Japanese and want to try reading some Japanese books, then will probably want to start with books that have furigana characters next to the kanji. One reading option that some people come up with are light novels.

Light novels are the Japanese equivalent of “YA” or “Young Adult” books in other countries. They intended for younger audiences, usually under the age of 18. Popular light novels are sometimes made into anime. Some examples of such LN-turned-anime include No Game No Life, Sword Art Online (SAO), Fate/Stay Night, Spice and Wolf, and Toradora!

Light novels and furigana

In general, light novels will not come with furigana on all of the kanji. For example, here is a page from No Game No Life:

Here’s a sample passage from Sword Art Online:

As you can see, most of the kanji do not come with furigana on them. The reason for this can be explained by the target demographic of light novels. From Wikipedia:

A light novel is a style of Japanese young adult novel primarily targeting high school and middle school students. The term “light novel” is a wasei-eigo, or a Japanese term formed from words in the English language.

In the first six years of elementary school Japanese students will learn about 1000 kanji characters. Since light novels are meant for middle and high school students, there’s no need to put furigana on the kanji that those students (likely) already know!

That’s fine if you’re a middle school student, but what if you are a Japanese learner? What if you haven’t learned 1000 kanji yet?

Books that do have furigana on all of the kanji

If you are looking to read books that do have furigana on all of the kanji, we recommend starting with manga. Unlike light novels, many manga do have furigana on all of the kanji characters.

Again, the reason for this is in the target demographic of manga comics. Some of them—particularly shonen and shojo—are targeted at younger demographics that include elementary school students. That means that, unlike, light novels, many manga will come with kanji.

For our monthly manga subscription service, we make sure that all the manga in our beginner and intermediate tiers come with furigana. This makes it much easier to look up words in a dictionary.

If you’re a beginner, we recommend starting with something easier like manga, graded readers, or children’s books. Once you’re more comfortable reading manga without furigana, then you can move on to light novels!

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